Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books Read in March

It feels like I read a ton this month but looking back, I'm not so sure if that's true.  Let me write down what I can remember and see if that jogs any further memory.

  • The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers - This is a reread for me.  Historical fantasy/fiction that takes place during the siege of Vienna.  A wonderful book that connects a number of dispersed European mythic figures.  The 'dark' in the title refers to some very special beer.
  • The Cave and the Light, by Arthur Herman - Not the first time I mentioned it and probably not the last time I'll refer to it.  This was simply a great book for organizing various philosophical schools of thought.  The idea behind it is that western philosophy can be seen as a very long argument between Plato and Aristotle.  Highly recommended.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus - A plague hits the town of Oran and the entire town is quarantined.  Camus uses the closed of town as a metaphor for life.  Every one is trapped there with the constant threat of life.  How do they handle it?  Who do they blame for it?  Very good book.
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford - This is a long first person account and it gave me trouble.  There wasn't quite enough plot or dialogue to hold on to me.  This is supposed to be a very good novel but I came away disappointed.  (This could be the era.  It reminded me of Henry James' 'Portrait of a Lady', which I also didn't like.)
And the short stories.  I made up some ground from last month.  I think I'm ahead by some amount.

Black is My Favorite Color by Malamud - very sad
Ancestor Money by McHugh - good
The Mad Talmudist by Peretz - interesting
The Fluted Girl by Backgalupi - very good
The Wife by Singh - good
Why I Became a Plumber by Maitland - lovely
Signs and Symbols by Nabakov - interesting

Friday, March 27, 2015

Classic Links

Why study Greek link

Why evolution depends on Platonic forms link

The Mysteries of Medieval Maps link

Re-imagining Lost Masterpieces of Antiquity link

Existential Birthday (Existential Comics) link

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Readings for April

Two pieces but big ones.  Sorry.  

St Augustine: Confessions (books 9-13) link
St Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica (part 1, QQ 16-17 and 84-88) link

Monday, March 16, 2015

Plato and Aristotle

For the past ten or eleven weeks I've been steadily reading either Plato, Aristotle or a commentary on the two of them.  (The commentary has been largely this book, 'The Cave and the Light: Plato vs Aristotle' by Arthur Herman, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.)  I've been absolutely steeped in their writings and who/what they've influenced.  This means that I've barely scratched the surface.  The two of them together constitute years of study and I won't pretend that I'm at that level.
But I do have thoughts.
  • I've  become accustomed to thinking of Aristotle as the patron saint of text book writers.  He set out to systematically figure out how things work and then pass them on to others.  In the same regard, Plato is the patron saint of op-ed writers and gadflys.  His job is to question how things are done and point out flaws in the structures that others have built.
  • They each have enormous roles in the development of western thought.  Through Aristotle we learn the very basic lesson that we can understand the world around us.  We can use our senses and our human faculties to grasp what's happening.  We can sit down and understand the the how and why of the world and use those thoughts to shape our own lives and futures.
  • Plato is more mystical but he's also more uncertain.  Or at least he leaves great room for uncertainty.  His greatest gift to the world is the sense that we ought to question everything around us.  I've long said that the Great Books have taught me of the great streak of rebelliousness in Western thought.  That started with Plato.  
  • Both of these things are strengths.  Aristotle gave us absolute knowledge and objective facts.  At some point those facts became gospel writ and it was hard for people to question him.  Then the Platonic influence rebounded and the 'gospel' quality receded.  People again sought the same objective facts and we got a scientific revolution.
  • Plato's 'Republic' is a landmark book, not for what it gets right but for what it attempts to do.  Aristotle's 'Politics' is a similar landmark, for the opposite reasons.  Today it reads as an utterly conventional book of political theory but it inspired much of our understanding of how government should work.
  • The university model was based on the academy that benefited both Aristotle and Plato but it has wandered far off course.  Could such a thing be remade?  Would it still work even if you couldn't prove its utility?  Would an entirely free search for knowledge lead students into areas where they'd be condemned?  (If the last question is answered 'yes', it's an enormous indictment on modern society.)
Every year of the reading list features works from Plato and Aristotle.  It's not hard to understand why.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Classic Links

Very good article on the history of votes for women link

Must you choose between 'God of the Philosophers' and 'God of the Bible'?  link

The Aeneid as propaganda link

'Dead Poet's Society' is a terrible defense of the humanities link

The Case for Old Ideas link

Stoicism Man (Existential Comics) link

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Biography of Aristotle

Original post found here.

Aristotle is one of the foundational peoples of the western world.  Without him, much of the world would have been wildly different.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Author Timeline

Euripides 480-406
Plato 428-348  
Aristotle 384-322

Augustine 354-430
Aquinas 1225-1274
Montaigne 1533-1592
Galileo 1564-1642
Bacon 1561-1626
Descartes 1596-1650
Newton 1642-1726
Locke 1632-1704
Hume 1711-1776
Kant 1724-1804
Melville 1819-1891
Dostoyevsky 1821-1881
James 1842-1910

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Readings for March

Two pieces, but neither of them are long.

Aristotle: Physics (book 4, chapters 1-5, 10-14) link
Aristotle: Metaphysics (book 1, chapter 1-2, book 4, book 6 chapter 1, book 11 chapter 1-4) link